Hesperian Health Guides

Ways to Lower Blood Pressure and Help Your Heart

Eat lots of vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains instead of processed, fried, salty, sugary or other “junk” foods. The chapter Good Food Makes Good Health has information on eating a variety of foods for better health and how to eat well when you have little money.

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Limit the amount of salt you eat. Read food labels to see how much salt (sodium) is in canned and packaged foods before you buy them. Processed foods in packages and cans can have too much salt even when they do not taste salty. Make your own meals with fresh foods and no salt. Flavor foods with lemon, garlic, onion, and herbs instead. Soy sauce, soup cubes, flavor packets, steak sauce, tomato ketchup, pickled foods, onion salt, and garlic salt usually have far too much salt to be healthy.

Instant noodles, instant soups, broth (consume), and food flavoring packets are filled with chemicals and salt (called sodium on many labels). All the ingredients are bad for you.
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This has 2000 mg of sodium in each soup cube, more sodium than most people need in a day!

Keep a healthy weight. If you weigh too much, even losing a few kilos or pounds can lower your blood pressure. Sometimes eating less of the main starchy food (rice, maize, cassava) at each meal, cooking in ways that use less oil, or stopping soft drinks such as Coca-Cola and other sweet drinks will help you lower your weight a little without too much effort. You can get used to less sugar in your tea or coffee by using a little less each week.

Stop smoking. Smoking makes having a heart attack or stroke much more likely. Even after years of smoking, stopping can improve your health. For help to stop, see Drugs, Alcohol, and Tobacco (in development).

Limit alcohol. Drinking alcohol increases the chance of heart disease. Too much is drinking more than 1 or 2 alcoholic drinks a day.

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Older people who walk every day and continue their daily activities as much as possible usually feel better and have better health.

Move your body — be active every day. Walking briskly 30 minutes a day works well for many people. Walking or doing activities with others is safer and more fun. Activities that people do anyway, such as farming and gardening, cleaning, and playing outside with children, are all good ways to keep moving.

Feel less stress. Make yourself feel calmer. Experiment to find what works best for you. Some people calm the body and mind with meditation, yoga, prayer, or other traditions. Others feel better after hard physical work or exercise. It often helps to build a relationship with another person or a group of people you can share your feelings with.

Join with others to help your health and the community’s health. Organize a group to share good ideas and activities that contribute to health. To reduce high blood pressure and heart disease in your community, adapt ideas about Community Action for Diabetes. For example, community gardening or sharing better ways to prepare food can prevent many future cases of heart disease and bring people together in ways that lead to other improvements for the community.

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Health workers can ask people what they are able to do and why they want to do it, instead of telling them what they should do. Nobody likes to be told what to do all the time.
Tell me more about why you want to do something about your high blood pressure.
I’m afraid of getting too sick or dying while the children are young. But changing what we eat is hard. And vegetables are expensive for us.
What changes have you been able to make so far?
Well, now I walk a lot more.

If you have high blood pressure or a heart problem

Finding out you have high blood pressure or another heart problem is worrisome. As with diabetes, you can manage heart and blood pressure problems so they do not lead to ill health or an emergency, and you can feel better. Whether or not you need medicines for your heart problem, you will probably feel better when you move more and change what you eat. This is why some people decide that finding out about their high blood pressure, heart disease, or diabetes—and doing something about it—is like being given a second chance (see the Diabetes chapter).

Adapting to new foods and new situations is easier when everyone in the family helps and makes the same changes too. And it is easier to exercise and move more if you plan something fun to do regularly with family and friends, such as walking together on your errands or dancing. Work with others to reduce stressful situations when possible.

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I have a small patio where I grow vegetables. I play with my children every evening.
People come up with many creative ways to exercise more and eat healthy food. What will you do?

This page was updated:10 Sep 2019